Friday, May 29, 2015

The Blind Poacher

Perhaps it's a symptom of my end-stage cynicism, but the first thing I thought of when I saw that this rare antelope is being suddenly wiped out by some mystery disease is that this asshole probably needs to round up his "conservationist" buddies and go "save" some antelopes. I mean, shit, how's an over-moneyed tool supposed to compensate for lack of penis and honest work, if he can't pay more than most people will earn in a decade to kill an endangered animal?

If there's any lesson to be found in all this, it's that Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, quite frequently turns out to be scattershot in the creatures she selects for elimination.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Politics By Other Means

So apparently the USDOJ has decided to step in and do something about widespread corruption in soccer's governing body, FIFA. Anyone else find this a bit weird?

In America, we decide who will be imperial custodian for the next four years -- thus serving as the figurehead for the decisions on where our perpetual-war-for-perpetual-peace campaign will touch down next -- by letting billionaires throw impossible amounts of money at a permanent-campaign machine, in order to provide the illusion of choice, between two maroons whom you wouldn't trust to clean your rain gutters. It is a system rife with incompetence, hypocrisy, nepotism, influence peddling, voting fraud and intimidation, ignorant and deceptive analysis from unqualified commentators, and worse. Its principal figures would, in a rational universe, be frog-marched to the nearest penitentiary, or at least be forced to find an honest means of employment.

The rest of the world, weary from the industrial-scale death and destruction of the previous century, have chosen to place their collective faith in institutions, especially international sports institutions, such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, both of which abide banana-republic levels of corruption as a matter of routine operations. That the appropriately-named Sepp Blatter is a crude peddler of thick envelopes is of little concern to the billions of fans who sublimate their violent urges through a frequently scoreless game that gets decided on penalty kicks.

Where the average 'murkin, steeped in his usual jingo juices and misunderstandings of history and geopolitics, really doesn't know all that much about the finer details of what his country's up to (not that it would matter; even if he knew, he still wouldn't care), the average Euro knows exactly what FIFA and the IOC are all about. Last year's World Cup in Brazil, with practically single-use stadia being built out in the middle of nowhere, and favelas being cleared both for last year's Cup and next year's Olympics, made it pretty clear that this is How Business Is Done in much of the world -- a stroke of the pen, the passing of cash-stuffed valises, the barrel of a gun.

Not that we're shocked at the morality of all that, come on. Our problem is that we got left out. The US Soccer Federation lobbied pretty hard for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, we obviously already have high-capacity football stadiums all over the country, and to get shut out of those opportunities was unacceptable. Especially to lose out to a sweaty, oppressive bunghole like Qatar, which will have to spend an estimated $220 billion (yes, $220B; that is not a typo) to build transport capacity and temperature-controlled stadia, presumably with the bones of their enslaved, abused migrant workers.

There is some serious money to be made here, and some openly corrupt dickhead Euro with a silly name has decided to shut American interests out of the picture, precisely because we already have the highways and venues. These sports events have become nothing more than a way for international construction conglomerates to get excuses to build make-work infrastructural upgrades. There's not nearly as much money in holding these events in places that already have those things. That's all any of this is about. Dio Fa!

News of the Weird

I don't mean to be insensitive [Ed.:  Since when?] that a man drowned trying to save his cat. But, uh, and I'm just asking for a friend, who takes a cat canoeing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The C Word

Some people find religion, in the comparative sense, fascinating. I am not one of those people. Sure, I get the idea that a system of proscribed mores and values can help provide comfort and solace in a violent, chaotic, entropic universe full of unexplainable -- and indeed unfair -- events and entities. It is the warm pink blanky that can grant purpose and meaning to someone who might otherwise not see any point to enduring a brutish existence.

The part of religion I do find interesting is how people can get caught up in more, let's say, dogmatic and rigid belief systems, especially those without any cultural standing or acceptance. In other words, cults. Now, like any good atheist I tend to subscribe to the notion that a "cult" is simply a religion that hasn't been around long enough to gain wide acceptance. But I think we can also describe pretty clear qualitative differences between, say, Judaism and the FLDS (or even mainstream Mormonism and the FLDS). It is a strange phenomenon to watch people who are willing to join and stay with a club that subjugates and abuses them as part of official policy. It's the worst form of Stockholm syndrome.

You may have watched the recent Alex Gibney doc Going Clear, a rather energetic broadside against Scientology that premiered on HBO last month. It's well-made, if not ideally sourced, and perhaps the most contentious section is the now well-known Xenu backstory that is revealed to adherents when they pass the coveted Operating Thetan 3 (aka OT III) level. This mythos is held as prima facie evidence that Scientology is a cult founded by a crackpot.

It's difficult to contest that assertion, except to note that pretty much all religions, mainstream and otherwise, have these types of stories built into them, either as creation mythos or as supporting evidence of certitude (for example, Jesus rising from the dead three days after being crucified). These stories serve two primary purposes:  one, to provide a colorful metaphor to convey some key component of the religion's belief system or pantheon; two, to challenge adherents to take that proverbial leap of faith (it is, after all, a leap of faith and not a leap of reason, n'est-ce pas?).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

5 Kids and Counting

So, how 'bout them Duggars, amirite? The actual details of what Josh Duggar did to four of his sisters and another girl he was babysitting are pretty bad, though not by the standards of what your average social worker sees routinely.

What makes it worse is that, if you do the math, when Josh was 14, his next four sisters would have been 12, 11, 10, and 9 (depending on the dates of the incident(s), the younger two girls may have been 9 and 8). It's hard to tell from the heavily-redacted police report in the In Touch article what the age was of the non-related girl. But this is all pretty bad shit, worse when you make your living humping the country's leg about their moral decline.

Certainly the timing of this story is politically convenient, seeing as how all the events, including the belated investigation, are a decade old or more. It would not be surprising at all to find the fingerprints of whatever ratfucking scumbag Hillary Clinton has running the dirty ops arm of her campaign team. But that is entirely the fault of the asshole conservatard industry, who accumulate money and power lecturing the peons on their personal lives and choices, rather than doing a single goddamned thing to empower them and help them get their lives together.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Myth of Reason

Per usual, Driftglass hits it right on the head with the "reasonable conservative" columnists, your Bobos and Frums and Gersons and such like. Brooks, despite his current ongoing emotional meltdown, continues to peddle his pablum in both column and book form, platitudinous observations as to the nature of tradition and character and constancy, sweet constancy. (No link to Bobo's book; I will not be your enabler. Use the Google if you must, and vaya con dios with that.)

The trouble with these middle-aged lackeys and their fusty observations is obvious -- aside from the fact that even their words wear black socks and flip-flops, they collude to present a sensible face on what has become a lurching, shambling, mauling creature of destruction. The idea that, as Driftglass point out, an experienced hack like Frum can (presumably with a straight face) assert that the "liberal left" lead the United States shows that either Frum is a smoother liar than he lets on, or the spectrum shifted tectonically without him -- again, a career professional in peddling this nonsense -- even noticing. Surely the ripples in his empty backyard swimming pool must have hinted at something.

Our collective political perspective has shifted drastically, to the point that Democrats are conservatives and Republicans are authoritarians, and any true liberals remaining are sure to be harangued into voting for Hillary, as early and often as possible. It has taken place in perfect coordination, coincidental or not, with the rise of the permanent campaign and its ancillary industries, with the rise in the money machine behind it.

It never stops anymore, will never stop anymore until public campaign financing takes precedence in some meaningful way (which will never happen). There's just too much money in the machine for the industry players to walk away from; we can blame the Koch brothers and their assorted parasites and dogsbodies, but the fact of the matter is that all that filthy pelf is going into someone's pocket, mostly into the maw of the multi-armed PR monster.

And so your reasonable middle-aged male columnists, their verbal libidos flagging in accord with their physical ones, engage in a different, more financially rewarding type of sexual congress -- weekly attempting to slather a sensible face on a party that now routinely engages in the utterly indefensible. That such diehard, shameless intellectual fraud has not only been elevated, but become an institution in "mainstream" discourse, shows how far we continue to fall.

Race to the Bottom

Matt Henry's photo.During the recent riots over Freddie Gray's completely unnecessary death in police custody, this meme gained some traction in the usual social media circles, where the hamster-like urge to press an easy outrage button is constant and relentless, and the desire to control one's baser impulses and think for a second tends to be suppressed. Unfortunately, this crap is common, pervasive, unavoidable -- and worst of all, is not really open for debate, unless you enjoy throwing your time down a virtual rathole, like used toilet paper. People who think this way are not looking to be convinced otherwise.

Maybe the strangest part of this is that the folks in my circle who were posting and commenting on this nonsense have no experience or knowledge about the case, the city, or urban dysphoria in general. They've grown up in rural communities with almost no black population. Hell, they haven't even watched The Wire. But they just know what those people are predisposed to, so it's this hardy-har-har bullshit about shiftless check-cashers mindlessly destroying everything for no reason at all. They are literally more concerned, more upset, over a CVS getting its windows broken than a young man getting rolled up by the people who are entrusted to protect and serve the community, and ending up somehow with a broken neck.

Now, it would be simple to attribute all that guff to basic racism, but I don't think that's quite it. It's a lack of understanding, coupled with a true belief in the virtues of bootstrapping, and a true ignorance of the realities of urban life. The commenters and posters -- at least the ones I know -- all had parents, teachers, and even cops who all cared about them, knew who they were, lived in the community and cared about it. It does not occur to the brave meme warriors that the corner kids in Baltimore have frequently lived their entire lives without any of those things. All of their institutions have failed them utterly. It could have been the murder of Freddie Gray, it could have been anything. But at some point a sufficient number of these citizens -- and yes, they are citizens of the United States of America -- find themselves tired of being trapped in the failure, the indifference, the daily viciousness.

It was okey-doke when KlavernCliven Bundy's snipers trained their scopes on federal officers attempting to enforce the law, an open insurrection for an openly racist asshole who thinks the country owes his ranch business rent-free land. But when people who have been undermined for generations, redlined, ghettoized, disenfranchised, disempowered, disemployed, have reached their limit, suddenly the whole world's come apart, the center cannot hold.

What escapes the rurals is that the rioters are not necessarily or only protesting whitey. Blacks know that black politicians and teachers and cops have failed them as well. This is about institutions and socioeconomic injustice at least as much as it is about racial injustice. White rural people need to learn that they have much more in common with urban black people that with rich white people. Guess who doesn't want them to figure that out, in this gilded age where the ethical descendants of Jay Gould continue to pay half of the working class to kill the other half?

So when I hear the notion of "safe spaces" being floated at public universities, I say that maybe people have got the wrong end of the stick here. I think that white people who are willing to listen -- and they may be difficult to find -- might be willing to learn. They need to hear these stories, at least as much as members of aggrieved groups need to commiserate. This is the sort of thing that unfortunately feeds the ofay white paranoia that thwarts real progress.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Sound and the Fury

So I'm reading de Boer's exegesis (and going down the rabbit hole of associated links) of how critics and fanboys have perhaps drunk too much of their own haterade, and can only defend "their" music by disparaging other genres and those fans.

I'll admit right up front that I have no clue how the average music fan consumes their musical product these days, but I suspect it is nothing like it was -- wait for it -- back in the day. It was easier to become an obsessive back then, and therefore either a more astute appreciator of music, or inspired to learn an instrument and start writing your own material. There were fewer toys and things to distract from the listening experience, and fewer choices and distribution outlets for material.

In other words, accumulating a significant collection of music to have on hand for repeated listening involved waiting for payday, figuring out how much discretionary income was available for whatever was being promoted that was worth taking a shot on, and then driving to the nearest record store. Now you can pull up a download site and start pulling, it's up to you whether you want to be an honest broker and pay for it. You can literally accumulate a library of music faster than you can listen to it.

(And we won't even get into the social phenomenon of music; I assume that for those of us who enjoy listening on our headphones, it's completely different stuff than we would listen to with other people in a social situation. On weekends, my wife and I like to have a nice breakfast together, and I Bluetooth my laptop library through the sound bar, essentially a jukebox. I find the things we both like; I know she doesn't want to listen to Orange Goblin and Coroner and Mastodon, not that that's breakfast music anyway. But it's the moments by ourselves when we are most open to the different and new, while in social situations the inclination is to put something on you figure everyone is familiar with and will like.)

Having more options and distractions of every type pushes music to the side. It is no longer the transcendental experience it used to be, when the sounds and arrangements were fresh and new. Social media has furthered the impulse to quick, brainless pronunciamentos, corralling of hivemind, rather than honest attempts to be objective about an inherently subjective area.

Personally, I think music critics should know how to play an instrument or several, should be conversant with the history and context of the genre of music they review. Playing something, even poorly, forces you to listen to music differently. To learn to play someone else's song is to train your ears and brain to disassemble it, and your fingers and ears to reassemble it. Even though I've been playing guitar for a full thirty years now, I played bass for a few years prior, and drums for a few years before that. That trains you to pick each instrument out of the mix, and as you listen to a song multiple times, you start cycling through the various instruments with your ears.

I can't think of any critic or magazine or site that I turn to regularly for reviews; there's just no point to it anymore. Occasionally if I encounter a review of an off-the-beaten-path album that I've already listened to, I'll check it out to see what the reviewer thinks. But -- and this is important to note, apparently -- I am neither gratified by a review that agrees with my impression, nor offended by a review that dismisses something I like. The best you can hope for is something that is well-written, entertaining, and perhaps catches some insight you missed. It seems to be more about being part of an event or trend though, than in sharing useful and informed observations.

Critiques against "rockism," or against a young black musician who plays metal differentiating himself from cultural assumptions by asserting his distaste for the preponderance of simple arrangements, nonexistent melodies, and bullshit lyrics of most rap and hip-hop, smack of mere contrarianism. The urge to smack readers upside the head with the cold fish of "betcher surprised I took this stance" is already old, in a young and still evolving medium.

They seem to be worried, these critics, about catching the Next Big Thing before someone else does, or about finding a Hidden Gem that's been cleverly in plain sight all along. Or they have a sociopolitical axe to grind. Trust me, when I say that the Black Eyed Peas' music is a steaming, runny dump into the collective ears of America, I give less than a red-hot monkey-fuck about the cultural, racial, or political implications of the musical content. I am simply saying that they are lazy, careless, derivative hacks who, in a rational world, would not be let anywhere near devices that create sound, where hapless human beings would have to hear their sonic mess. That's all.

"Rockism" is nothing more nor less than an insistence (however unrealistic) of authenticity, at least how the rock fan understands that term. Ideally, the band or musician should write and play at least the majority of the material that is released under their name. This is an expectation the pop fan simply doesn't comprehend or care about, but it is core to the rock fan's ability to identify with and support the musician, if not the music itself.

Being a clear diehard rockist, I never thought I'd say this, but both sides have valid points. The rock fan dismisses the likes of disco and Mariah Carey because they are transparent marketing ploys; since Carey and many of the various disco divas tended to be more the face of the product than the true creative force behind it, it's easy for the rock fan to assert that virtually anyone can cut a doctored track written by committee, so there's no point in giving any of these individuals any adulation.

But what the pop fan gets that frequently escapes the rock fan is a much simpler tenet -- that a good song is a good song, regardless of who made it or how. There are no concerns about "authenticity" or "integrity," at least until the performer gains a fan base. The pop fan is also okay with the ephemeral nature of the music, a burnout of the song in six weeks or so of heavy rotation, after which the song is played out and only occasionally revisited, sometimes ironically, but eventually with some brief, thin nostalgia.

Rock and metal fans are much more attached to the musicians and the music. There is much more of a sense of permanence. People have put in work, perhaps thousands of hours and many years of practicing, rehearsing, touring, writing, developing a whole host of skills that a spoiled pop brat just hires people to do for them with a snap of the fingers. There is a definite working-class ethos behind that philosophy, but again, it can come at the expense of missing out on songs that, while not monumental achievements, are still valuable pop confections.

I remember when I graduated high school and went to college for a year, my first experience in a dorm setting, was a real eye-opener. At that point, I had gotten into a rather unfortunate preference for what might best be characterized as "hobbit rock":  the pretentious, bombastic, early-70s prog wankerings of groups such as Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull. Being raised mostly on AM pop, R&B, and country music, the virtuosity and ambition of these musicians excited my imagination, and some of it still does to this day. Some of the other dorm rats were from Los Angeles, and turned me on to early hair-metal bands like Dokken, harder metal bands like Iron Maiden, and punk bands like Dead Kennedys and MDC.

But when you're 18 and in college, your mission is to Get Laid. And even then I knew that that was not going to happen by bringing the girlies over and playing them Tarkus or Thick as a Brick. They weren't even ready for Dokken and Maiden at that point. This was 1985-86, so you either learned to put up with Madonna and Tears for Fears and all that hairspray synth-pop, or you were going to spend your weekends with Rosie Palm and her five sisters.

It takes some seasoning and maturity to get over oneself and one's prejudices, the need to assert your likes by shitting on someone else's. This doesn't mean you can't talk some neck about a band you don't like; when I say that I think the Black Guy Pees' music is lazy, hacky shit, I am not kidding. That is not schtick. But by the same token, if someone came up in comments saying, "Hey, I loves me some Fergie!", I'm not going to get into a flame war over it. Chacun à son gout and all that.

Still, the one core value of the rock fan that I think is worth paying attention to and upholding is that of the self-directed creator, the musician writing and performing their own songs. That doesn't at all mean that sampling, electronic instruments, and even song doctors can't be used to create something new and cool. But if everyone sampled, who would create new things to sample? You can see the almost Dickian level of internal recursion here.

Perhaps instead of hewing to a metric of "good" and "bad" it might be more useful for critics and fans to look at whether something is interesting or not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

True North

Jim at Stonekettle Station is absolutely correct, of course, that the idea of a nation having a "moral compass" is a canard, a logical fallacy, the usual steamy crock of conservabilly horseshit. (Kudos also to Jim for replying to an illiterate rube. That's more than I would have done; if they're not going to take the time to write coherently, I'll never find the time to engage them.)

But for the hell of it, let's say we take the rube's "morale [sic] compass" argument at face value. This is a common refrain amongst the oldsters who refuse to do the right thing and jettison themselves into the Arctic Ocean on an ice floe, and instead harangue the rest of us at how the country they thought they knew has "lost its way."

I say it's finally starting to find its way, in several important respects. There is massive work to be done still, to address the ravages of wealth inequality, of the ongoing dilapidation of the national infrastructure, of a nation run by rackets, and so on. But there are very important moral strides this nation has accomplished in my lifetime.

Blacks are still getting harassed and killed by law enforcement. But they have always been getting harassed and killed by law enforcement. The fact that you finally hear about it when it happens is, sadly and amazingly, a sign of moral progress, a clue that more and more people understand that it's going on and that it's wrong.

Same goes for bigotry toward gay people. They've always been picked on. But again, now you hear about it, now a substantial contingent of observers register their displeasure. Sometimes those folks get a bit carried away, inadvertently allowing small businesses speaking hypothetically to nail themselves to a Kickstarter cross, and cash in on cultural polarization. But the tide is turning all the same, too slowly for some, too quickly for others.

Over the years many folks, myself included, held out hope that the mossbacks would die off, and the kids, not having inherited their parents' prejudices, would be all right. I don't know if that's really the case; the older I get, the more I notice that stupid parents tend to produce stupid kids, who then turn into another generation of stupid adults.

The climate in general does seem to be getting uglier, more vitriolic. I didn't care for Bill Clinton for a lot of reasons, but that was a time where the opposition suddenly seemed to decide that there were no longer any boundaries, that any and all bullshit was fair game. Compared to how the current crowd treats and talks about Obama, that was nothing. The venomous, spiteful nature not only of Obama's political opposition, but the commentary at large, is amazing.

At least W gave his opponents plenty of things to hate about him, and they still did not react with quite this much vituperation. I honestly believe that if Obama said that water is wet or that the sun rises in the east, there would be some jabbering internuts claque to twitter hostile lunacies over it.

So perhaps, after all, there is something to this "moral compass" thing, just not what its author had intended. It never is, precisely because of the inherently biased nature of such observations.